But in his interview with the Monitor, on his campaign bus here last month, Edwards insisted that his personal wealth did not undercut his populist agenda.
"I think they're wrong," he said of his critics. "You could look at anybody's life and pick out particular things and say, 'Well, that's inconsistent.'
"It is true I worked at a hedge fund," he added. "And there's no doubt that one of the reasons I worked there was to earn some income.
"But it's also true that I started a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, I did humanitarian work in Africa, I started a college program for low-income kids in eastern North Carolina, I worked to help raise the minimum wage in six different state ballot initiatives, I helped organize workers, particularly low-income workers, into unions. All those things are indications of what I care about and what my priorities are."
An evolving faith
Edwards, the eldest of three siblings, was born in 1953 in Seneca, in the northwest corner of South Carolina. By the time his family landed in Robbins, N.C., another small town, a dozen years later, his father had risen from floor worker at a cotton mill to supervisor.
"My children were well fed and well clothed, and we lived in a decent house, but we had to be very careful with money because there was no extra," his mother, Bobbie Edwards, recalled in a phone interview with the Monitor.
His father advanced to production supervisor in a textile mill, but felt that his lack of a college degree stood in the way of further promotions.
"He knows what working people go through," Wallace Edwards says of his son.
Wallace and Bobbie Edwards taught Sunday School at the First Baptist Church in Robbins. As a boy, Edwards went to services regularly and attended revivals.